Members of Congress love to play the role of U.S. Mint director. During Banking Committee nomination hearings, senators will often ignore candidates for important jobs in other financial roles if there's someone else at the table who can talk about dollar coins. This utterly wasteful program is costing us a billion, and it's a perfect example of why this country is going bankrupt.
Ever since the kings of Ancient Greece slapped their visage onto pieces of silver around 2,500 years ago, the coin has been a way of letting the masses know who's boss. Modern-day solons see coins in a similar light. What better way to memorialize their impact on society than designing money of their own - even if nobody actually wants to use it.
Thanks to congressional minting mandates, over one billion dollar coins are gathering dust in the basement of Federal Reserve banks around the country, according to a spokesman for the Mint. The American people have never loved the Susan B. Anthony, nor the Sacagawea. Even the presidential $1 coin has been a total flop. Yet Capitol Hill commands the production of five new dollar-coin designs every year, with a 20 percent quota for Sacagawea, an Indian guide on the Lewis and Clark Expedition.
Aside from a handful of numismatists who enjoy adding new specimens to their collections, the coins simply aren't used. Five years ago, a Gallup poll found 79 percent of the public preferred to keep their greenbacks, so the coins don't circulate. Washington busybodies don't care. Politicians believe they know better than we do, smugly pointing out that Europe has long had the equivalent of dollar coins. The General Accountability Office notes in a March report that coins have a longer life than paper and that making the switch would save money. So bureaucrats have gone all out to foist these silly quarter-sized objects on us as if they were forcing us to eat our vegetables. Congress, for instance, commands the Post Office, transit agencies and any vending machine on federal property to use $1 coins. That's why the money-changing machines in Metro stations dispense these dollar coins as change. Unlucky recipients look forward to getting rid of them as soon as possible.
Perhaps if the coins were made of actual gold and held real value, such a switch would make sense. Consumers have no desire to have their pockets weighed down by something whose worth diminishes by the day. It's time for Congress to give up its social experimentation and repeal its self-indulgent coin mandate.
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